Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Reformed Theology”

“Reformed Theology”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
“His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?”’ Daniel 4:34-35

These are the words of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of ancient Babylon. He thought that he was a god and everyone and everything was subservient to him. God drove him insane but restored him after Daniel’s prophesied period of time. This great king was brought to his knees by the only sovereign God!

As a pastor of a Church, a member congregation in a Reformed Denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, I am often asked by visitors what is Reformed Theology? Why are we so adamant in describing ourselves as Reformed? My response is that Reformed Theology is Biblical Theology recovered by the Protestant Reformers. Primarily, Reformed Theology is grounded in the absolute sovereignty of God. We are adamant about our name because we are adamant in teaching, preaching and living the truth revealed by the Sovereign God who humbled the great king Nebuchadnezzar.

Nebuchadnezzar learned this truth the hard way. God humbled this man who was full of pride. God caused him to live like a wild animal. Even his appearance was changed. The Prophet Daniel described the king with these words, “He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.” Daniel 4: 33

We can choose to believe whatever we want to believe. But we are not free to define God in our own image or comfort. God has revealed Himself and one fundamental attribute of God is His sovereignty. Sovereignty means rule. When we speak of the sovereignty of God, we are referring to His absolute rule of all of His Creation.

You may be thinking, “Doesn’t every church believe that God is sovereign?” You’re right. Every church that professes belief in the Risen Lord Jesus Christ also believes in the sovereignty of God. So then, what’s this “Reformed Theology” all about? Those who claim to be reformed in faith and practice look at every aspect of life through the lens of the sovereign character of God.

For example, our salvation depends upon a sovereign God. The Bible teaches that men are incapable of turning to God. All men are born spiritually dead. Only a God who is absolutely sovereign can save us. God breaks into the life of a man causing him to see the truth of life in Jesus. We do not have the ability within us to believe in God’s only begotten Son, Jesus. God must raise us from spiritual death to spiritual life. Only a sovereign God can promise that nothing will ever separate us from His love, Romans 8:38- 39 and keep His word.

In fact, I can’t think of anything in life that doesn’t depend upon the sovereign God. The Prophet Jeremiah was in mourning over the destruction of Jerusalem. He wrote, “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” Lamentations 3:37- 38 Jeremiah declared that God ordains everything that happens!

I can hear the skeptics, “If the sovereign God ordains everything then what’s the point of doing anything?” God did not create robots. God’s sovereignty does not contradict our wills. Every single human being will do whatever he desires. God holds us accountable for what we do. But, God’s will stands above man’s will. He acts without any encumbrances. Whatever He wills is done.

God’s rule is absolute and inclusive. The fact that all men do not submit to God’s rule does not nullify it. There will come a time when God’s sovereign rule will be seen. When Jesus, the sovereign King, returns, every creature will submit to Him. Until then the visible rule of God is seen in the church. Reformed theology affirms that the church is the visible kingdom of God.

So, “What’s in a name?” Our name represents what we believe. The one true God is absolutely sovereign in everything. Jesus Christ is the King and Head of the church.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “No Peace, No Holiness, No Heaven” (Sanctification)

“No Peace, No Holiness, No Heaven” (Sanctification)
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”
Hebrews 12:14
There are so many warnings given to Christians in the Bible! This one is perhaps the clearest and yet the most violated and misunderstood. Of course, the striving for peace is offered as the real impact of Christianity. After all Christians are supposed to be peace loving people, aren’t they? Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:9

The Nobel Foundation awards a Peace Prize to one who seeks to establish peace. Although in recent years, it appears to have lost a degree of objectivity by focusing on words regardless of actions. Nevertheless, the prize is still highly esteemed. Our culture values the virtue of striving for peace.

Christians are called to be people of peace, putting their words into action. Rather than simply talking about peace, they are to actually demonstrate it in their lives by striving for it. The word translated “strive” also means to pursue, run after or chase. Christians are to be known as people who live peaceably with others, as much as it is possible, or as much as peace depends upon us, Romans 12:18.

King David in Psalm 34, verse 14 wrote, “Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”
Those who have been declared right with God, justified, are at peace with Him. It is “the justified” to whom the author of Hebrews declared the command to strive for peace. I believe that it is intuitively obvious even to non-Christians that the Bible teaches God’s people to live in peace. The striving for peace is an outward sign that Christians possess the inward knowledge that we are at peace with God.

But looking at the referenced quote at the top from Hebrews, the hard part of the command is the second part – to strive for holiness! Christians are sinners who have been changed by God. We have been made new creatures, 2Corinthians 5:17. We who are Christians have been given new desires. These new desires compel us to run after Jesus, to seek to obey Him.

We know that God’s declaration that a sinner is right with Him is called justification. That is just the beginning. God’s will for His people is our sanctification, 1Thessalonians 4:3. In other words God’s will for us is to be holy. This is a work of God in the life of every sinner whom He justifies. No one can get to heaven by justification alone. Justification is not all of salvation. God continues to change us from the inside. He causes us to die more and more to sin and live more and more unto righteousness (doing what is right).

I recently heard a man say that the Christian Life is not about being changed. He went on to say it’s about Jesus. True, the Christian Life is about Jesus as He is revealed in the gospel. Jesus’ name means God saves. God saves us from His wrath. We are saved by God from God. Looking to Jesus alone is the means that God has chosen to save us for eternity. No unholy or unclean person can be in the presence of the Living God. Before we can enter the gates of heaven and be in the presence of God, we must be made holy. God has promised to make those who trust in Jesus holy.

Paul wrote to the Philippians, Chapter 2, verses 12 and 13, “… work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Revelation 22:14 makes this declaration, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.” Only those who continually repent of their sins and trust in Jesus will be allowed entrance to heaven.

The writer made it clear by the exclusive statement, “… without which no one will see the Lord.” Without striving for peace and holiness it will be impossible to see Jesus in heaven!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Justification”

“Justification”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
There is no peace without God’s pardon. These are strong words if they are true. They are true irrespective of who says them or believes them. No one will find true peace unless God pardons his sin. Peace is not simply the absence of conflict. Peace is having a right relationship with God that is only given by God. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1

The word that this describes and that is the cornerstone of Christianity is justification. Justification is an act of God’s free grace wherein He pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by faith alone. (The Westminster Shorter Catechism Question and Answer #33)

Pardon, righteousness and imputation are at the heart of what God has revealed concerning justification, being at peace with Him.

First, when God justifies a man or woman, He pardons their sins. Every human being stands guilty before God. God is the supreme judge and sin is an offence against Him. Sin is lawlessness, 1John 3:4. The Apostle John wrote about every one of us. He wrote, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 1John 1:8. We are all guilty. We will all face God’s judgment, from which there is no escape.

I’m sure that you’re familiar with the biblical narrative of King David’s life, especially his great sin. David committed adultery and murder. He fully expected to receive God’s justice which would’ve been death. But, by God’s grace, David was given eyes to see God’s mercy, his only hope. David recorded his prayer in Psalm 51 in which he appealed to God’s mercy.

You may not be a murderer or an adulterer, but you are a sinner. You and I have no basis upon which to cry to God for fairness. Not only are we guilty before God, but we’re all born dead in sin. Like David, our lives rest solely upon the grace of God even to be able to see our sin. God who is rich in mercy must act for us.

The next word under review is “righteousness”. The meaning of righteous is to do what is right, to do what God requires. The Apostle Paul quoted the Old Testament in his letter to the Christians in Rome and said that no one is righteous, Romans 3:10. This means that no one does what is right. No one does what God requires. We can only look at actions, but the Apostle is considering the heart. Paul declared that no man is motivated to do what God requires from his heart. In understanding this inclusive statement, it is necessary to see what God has said concerning the heart of “natural” man. We don’t need to move too far past the Garden of Eden to read God’s view of mankind. Genesis 6:5, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” In other words, the natural man is incapable of being righteous before God. But justification is God’s act of free grace by which He pardons our sins and accepts us as righteous in His sight.

The third word “imputation” describes the means God uses to justify a sinner. As every professing Christian knows, justification is by faith alone! We also know that faith is believing the truth, acknowledging it and trusting in it. We also know that the truth is a person, Jesus Christ the only Son of God. God does not ignore the sins of the faithful. He covers those whom He justifies with the perfect righteousness of Christ and at the same time, God takes their sin and places it upon Christ. He has declared that this is done by faith alone. That faith is a gift of God, Ephesians 2:8. Since the faith that we profess is God’s gift by which He declares us right with Him, we affirm that this great action of God is all grace. No man has any room for boasting. “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ…” Galatians 2:16a

Martin Luther said, this is “the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls.”

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “How to Interpret the Bible”

“How to Interpret the Bible”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

The Bible is the breathed out word of God. God has revealed what He wants us to know about Him and His plan of redemption. God has told us that all men are creatures. He is the Creator. The Bible reveals His only Son, Jesus, through whom we know God personally. This unique and precious book is a collection of 66 books. Men whom the Spirit of God carried along wrote it. It contains everything necessary for life and salvation. God has preserved what we have today.

God gave us the Bible because He is a God of revelation. He desires that we understand what He has said. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the Bible is understandable. Yet, it seems that many are lost when it comes to interpreting the Bible. One would think that God’s book would have specific interpretations. But, Christians are faced with a myriad of interpretations. We are faced with choices. Who has the “right” interpretation? Whom should we follow? What is “right” doctrine? If we look at this issue of biblical interpretation logically, we must conclude that all interpretations cannot be right. When there are contradicting views of the Bible, one or both may be wrong. One thing for certain is they all can’t be right. There is only one right interpretation of a passage of Scripture. For difficult passages, we may never arrive at the right interpretation this side of heaven.

But, don’t lose heart. The entire Bible does not fall into the category of “difficult”. The vast majority of biblical doctrine is clear. For example, the doctrine of salvation is one such doctrine. It is clear that God has revealed that men are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

As a general rule, how do we know what God has said?

The answer is hermeneutics, interpretation. There are two principles by which we are able to interpret Scripture. The first is called the biblical principle. The second is called the literal principle. The biblical principle is also called the analogy of faith. The Protestant Reformers recovered this principle of interpretation. They understood that the Bible interprets itself. This means the clear passages of Scripture shed light upon the more obscure ones. It is also understood that one place of Scripture must not be placed against another. In other words, there are no contradictions in the Bible. There may be apparent contradictions, but once studied we find that the Bible is consistent with itself, because God does not speak with a “forked” tongue.

The second principle, the literal one, is also called the historical/grammatical principle of interpretation. You may have heard the saying that, “Text without context is pretext.” The words of Scripture find their meaning within the broader context of the passage. For example, because of the difficulty in understanding Hebrews 6:4, it would not be accurate to base a theology on the possibility of losing one’s salvation! Keeping that verse within its context makes it clear that the writer is speaking of one who may profess faith, but does not possess genuine saving faith. In other words, the writer was speaking of those who are called apostates.

Further, to interpret literally means to understand that which is plainly meant. It is how we read and understand any literature. Therefore, in interpreting the Bible: grammar, meaning of words, context, time in which it was written, etc. are involved in understanding the meaning. It is important to remember that the literal interpretation of the Bible is not the same as a literalistic interpretation. For example, we know that when the prophet Isaiah wrote that the “trees of the field shall clap their hands” he didn’t mean that trees have hands. God was describing the joy of all Creation when His plan of redemption is finally consummated. Or, when Jesus said that He was the “door of the sheep”, He did not mean that He looked like a door! John 10 was declaring that Jesus is the only way for His people to have safety and security.

Finally, the Bible is the only rule of faith and practice that God has given to His people. He means for us to understand it. I encourage you to apply these principles of interpretation so that your life will be lived for His glory and your blessing.